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5th February
written by Steph

I’ve decided to take a temporary hiatus from reading my way through the books on this year’s Tournament of Books list.  Right now I’ve read a quarter of the entrants (read: four books), and while I thought half of these books were ok, I haven’t exactly thought any of them were stellar, and some of them were definitely not my cuppa tea.  In the end, I want my reading experience to be an enjoyable one, and if restricting my book choices to a list isn’t proving to be profitable, I’d rather cut my losses and try something else.  Part of my decision has been influenced by the fact that many of the ToB books I’ve requested at my local library still have a rather lengthy list, so I have no choice but to move on to different reading material for the time being.  So far the books I’ve sampled from the list haven’t instilled me with the kind of confidence to rush out and buy any of the other books on the list, so until the books are available to me at no fiscal cost whatsoever, I’m going to read through my lengthy TBR pile (which has increased in length yet again, due to McKay’s... it's supplanted shoe buying, which is a huge deal for me).  I’m not swearing off the ToB books forever, mind you, but I might cleanse my literary palate for a while before venturing back to them.  In the end, I might prefer to wait and see which books at least win their first round before picking up any more, as I think I’ve spent enough time with some of the loser books… On that note, I am happy to report that Gentlemen & Players is definitely NOT a loser book.  In fact, I would say it is the best book I have read this year so far (normally this would not mean much, but I have already read about 10 books so far in 2009, so that’s not too bad!).  Seriously, it is taking all of my power not to just write “OMG!!1!1!!  Best book eva!  Squeeeee!” because that’s kind of how this book made me feel.  If you at all enjoy mystery novels, thrillers, all-boys snooty academies, England, or some combination thereof, you totally owe it to yourself to get your hands on a copy of this book.  Even if you don’t think you like those things, you should still read this book, because it is really good. I won’t give much plot away, because half the fun is figuring out what the heck is going on, but the general idea here is that the novel is told through alternating perspectives.  We learn about St. Oswald’s through the eyes of Roy Straitley, an elderly Latin teacher who is on the cusp of his “Century”, having spent nearly 100 terms teaching at the school.  We also learn about another side of the school through the eyes of a more sinister figure, someone who has always wanted to be a part of the school since childhood, but who has always been denied.  Until now!  Now in adulthood, this person is dead set on bringing St. Oswald’s down from the inside, hell bent on tarnishing its reputation and leaving a mark that won’t soon be forgotten. I found the first part of the novel a bit difficult to get into, but it soon became one of those books that I read feverishly, devouring a hundred pages in a single sitting, so desperate I was to find out what would happen next.  I really enjoyed Harris’s writing, which was cheeky and witty, but full of tension, too.  Through the alternating narrators, Harris is able to build up the suspense brilliantly, artfully keeping an undercurrent of malice slowly simmering just underneath the surface until she decides to let it all boil over near the end.  Every so often I would have to stop reading in order to gleefully crow to Tony about how good my book was and to tell him how jealous he must be that he didn’t get to read it himself.  That’s not to say the book is perfect; there are parts that feel a bit repetitive, and some of narrative spent recalling the past can initially seem unnecessarily long, but overall the book works really well.  I am notoriously bad at guessing twists, and I totally fell for all of Harris’s traps, some of which caused me to do double takes as I tried to figure out what had just exactly happened.  There’s a lot of earth-shattering plot points that occur throughout the novel, and I’m happy to report that none of them feel gimmicky at all.  Finishing the novel, you see just how masterful a storyteller Harris is to pull Gentlemen & Players off.  She’s so good that she makes it seem easy as she repeatedly pulls the rug out from underneath you. This is a well written mystery/thriller novel that defies my doing it justice.  To use the chess metaphor that runs throughout Gentlemen & Players, I am but a pawn here.  All I can do is strongly urge you to read it because it is such a wickedly fun reading experience.  It’s one of those books that makes me sad that you can only read everything once for the first time, because while it would certainly withstand a re-read, the first time is definitely going to be the best.  At least I have the consolation of having a new author to start collecting books from; I just hope the other books by Harris are as good! What are you waiting for?  Go find this book! Rating: 4.5 out of 5


  1. 02/06/2009

    I’ve never read Harris before.. thanks for the review. 🙂

  2. 02/06/2009

    This was my first Harris, too. She also wrote the book Chocolat, which, for obvious reasons, is probably what she’s most famous for, but I kind of got the sense that it might be not totally representative of her general tone. Having done a perusal of her works, it seems she has a preference for writing things slightly darker in tone, which this certainly was. But it was also so much fun!

  3. 02/06/2009

    I have heard only good things about this book, and really want to read it. After seeing the film version of Chocolat, I have been slowly collecting her books, but have not gotten this one yet. I am glad it was such a fun read for you, I was staring to get discouraged along with you after all those clunkers!

  4. 02/06/2009

    What else have you read by Harris? If I were going to pick up another one by her (which I would certainly do, because I really liked this one), which one would you recommend? I’ve actually never even seen the movie Chocolat! It was definitely nice to pick up a book that was a joy to read!

  5. 02/07/2009

    That’s what I was thinking earlier.. wasn’t Harris the author of Chocolat? But this novel sounded so different from Chocolat that I said to myself, Nah.. Apparently, I was initially right. Loved the movie Chocolat but haven’t read the novel.

  6. 02/08/2009

    I can’t wait to read this book!

  7. 02/08/2009

    Chavonne, I am pretty sure that you will love this one. Let me know when you do read it!

  8. 02/10/2009

    I really liked The Five Quarters of the Orange, which I thought was a great book, if you don’t mind your fiction a bit dark.

  9. 02/10/2009

    I have absolutely no problem with dark fiction (though I do sometimes get concerned when I end up on a roll where one book after the other is disturbing, because it makes me wonder if I have a deep personality flaw that attracts me to these books)! I was thinking of trying Sleep Pale Sister next, simply because it’s the one I encounter the most at used bookstores, but I will keep my eyes peeled for Five Quarters of the Orange! Thanks for the suggestion!

  10. 02/11/2009

    A book blogger recommended this book to me and I enjoyed it so much. I agree that much of the fun is figuring out what is going on. The novel is about the obsession (desperate desire) of some underclass antihero who wants to be in the rank of the socially elite and privileged has gone awry. That he was longing for respect and admiration can take a violent and menacing turn is both gripping and provocative. I love novel with an academic setting.

  11. 02/11/2009

    I’m with you, Matt – being in academia myself, I get a kick out of reading books also set in academics. This book completely exceeded my expectations, and totally captivated me. It was both much darker and more rich than I had expected going in. I was not disappointed.

  12. […] Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris – I read and loved Gentlemen & Players (my first Harris) earlier this year, and have been wanting to read more by her.  This was on the […]

  13. […] Last year I read Gentlemen & Players by Joanne Harris and absolutely loved it.  Such a good thriller, one that was wonderfully written and had plenty of great twists.  Based on that, I decided I wanted to read more by Harris, and I picked up a copy of Five Quarters of the Orange on my subsequent trip to McKay’s. […]

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